Recently, the “tsunami” of the new crown pneumonia epidemic has swept across India, and some local funeral customs have entered the public eye with news related to the epidemic, attracting the attention of the world. In fact, although the increase in the number of local deaths and cremation is true, some links that make people feel “unbelievable”, such as the non-stop operation of crematoriums and open-air burning of corpses, are traditional Hindu funeral customs and need to be treated differently.
Incineration on the day of death is a tradition
The vast majority of Indians are Hindus, and Hindus generally undergo cremation after death. Hinduism is inherently complex in doctrines and has many sects. The customs of different regions are also slightly different, but there are some common points in funeral customs. The most important thing is that the deceased should be cremated as soon as possible after death, preferably within a day. In some places, the customs are more strict, requiring that the body of the deceased during the day should be cremated before sunset; the body of the deceased at night should be cremated before sunrise. This custom is estimated to be related to the generally hot climate in India and the inconvenience of long-term survival of the remains. This ancient custom also reflects a simple awareness of epidemic prevention. From this point of view, according to Hinduism, cremation is originally a day and night.
The second is open burning of corpses. Now in large cities in India, the government, out of consideration for environmental protection, generally requires people to choose indoor crematoriums to cremate their remains after someone dies in their homes. However, the cremation of Hindus traditionally involves burning wood outdoors, and the wood has to be prepared by the deceased or his family. The status of the deceased can also be distinguished from the wood. For example, in ancient times, royal nobles might use sandalwood, which is rich in oil and burns with a fragrant smell, while ordinary people can only afford cheap wood. However, even for the emperor, cremation was open in the open. The wood is crossed horizontally and vertically to form a cube and piled on the corpse burning table. The wood is covered with garlands, and the remains are wrapped in yellow cloth and placed on top of the wood for incineration. Hinduism believes that the essence of death is the process by which the soul leaves one body and enters another body, and the original body is incinerated to redeem sin karma and help the soul to escape from this discarded skin. At this level, Buddhism is likely to be influenced by Hinduism, so the death of a monk must also be cremated. If the deceased’s family is extremely poor and cannot afford the wood needed for cremation, some families will bury the deceased in the soil first, and then dig out the remains for cremation when they save enough money to buy wood in the future.
There are many rules for attending a funeral
The Hindu incineration ceremony must be presided over by a Brahmin priest. He led people to carry the body around the corpse burning table three times counterclockwise, and then placed the body on the wood, then the deceased’s eldest son will hold the torch and rotate the body counterclockwise for three weeks, and then start under the deceased’s head Light the wood. During this period, the priest chanted the scriptures, and the Hindus among the relatives who participated in the ceremony should follow along, and the non-Hindus only needed to stand still.
After the remains are burned, the ashes will be collected by the deceased’s eldest son and scattered into the Ganges; if it is not convenient to go to the Ganges, they will also be scattered into the rivers or the sea in other holy places. According to Hindu tradition, there are several people who do not need cremation, such as pregnant women, infants under 5 years old, and ascetics. They are considered pure and do not need to remove the sin karma of this life through the torch, so their remains can be directly Water burial. This is also the origin of the floating corpses in the Ganges in the past. However, in recent years, this kind of water funeral directly carried out in the Holy River has been banned by law. Therefore, floating corpses are rarely seen in the Ganges nowadays. People who do not need to “wash off sin karma” are usually cremated now.
The entire process of cremation in India is relatively quiet except for the chanting. Even if someone is crying, they are generally more restrained. Few people cry hysterically. This should be related to the cognition of death. It is best to wear white clothes at the funeral of Hindus, and it is taboo to wear black and revealing clothes. In some conservative places, women do not go to the funeral, and the funeral and ceremonial teams are all men. Although many wreaths are used in the cremation ceremony, the guests attending the funeral are not allowed to give flowers.
After attending the funeral, the family of the deceased should take a bath and clean the home after returning home. According to custom, within one day after the funeral, family members cannot light a fire and cook, and their food needs to be prepared by other relatives and delivered. When other relatives and friends who have participated in the funeral return home, they must also hold a small ceremony. When they enter the door, they should take out the holy water that was originally returned from the Ganges River, sprinkle a few drops on their heads, and then bathe and change clothes.
As for the time spent at the funeral of the deceased’s family, customs vary from place to place. The shortest period is about 10 days, and the longer period may be a year. During the mourning period, where the body of the deceased was placed in the home, a water tank must be placed and a lantern lighted, and the water in the water tank must be changed daily. During this period, the family of the deceased was considered unclean. They should stay at home as much as possible, not to visit relatives and friends, nor to worship in temples and holy places. In addition, family members should not be excessively sad during the funeral. Hindu teachings encourage them to maintain a cheerful and relaxed atmosphere, and these are believed to help the deceased to reincarnate as soon as possible.
The burning station becomes a tourist attraction
There is a famous scenic spot in New Delhi-the Tomb of Gandhi. The tomb is located on the banks of the Jumuna River. Leaders of many countries will lay flowers here to express their respect to Mahatma Gandhi when they visit India. In fact, as a Hindu, Gandhi does not have a tomb. The so-called Gandhi tomb is actually the place where Gandhi was cremated, and the tomb body is a simple square black marble platform.
Varanasi, the most famous holy city in India, is located on the banks of the Ganges. The corpse burning platform (pictured) here attracts many tourists, and many people come here to appreciate the meaning of life and death. The author once saw a metal corpse burning table in Monali, a mountainous city in the Himalayas. The corpse burning platform is on the hillside, which looks like a stretcher. It extends to the riverside tens of meters down through a long metal slide. The ashes from incineration can slide directly into the river. Out of curiosity, the author followed the dead-burning table found by an ascetic monk from a distance. Later I realized that the white on the ashes of the ascetic monk might have been wiped away. Some sects in India believe that corpses and ashes have special spiritual power, and the ashes can increase personal cultivation.